WEVERTOWN - In a controversial decision, the Johnsburg Town Board delivered a 3-2 vote in support of Highway Superintendent Daniel Hitchcock's bid to appoint William Mosher to a vacant Highway Department position.
The Jan. 6 vote was required under the Town's Ethics Code. The code stipulates that an appointment by a town official of a relative, in this case Hitchcock's brother-in-law, must be reviewed by an ethics panel comprised of the Town Board.
Hitchcock has recently been under considerable scrutiny and criticism for his decision to appoint Mosher to the position.
Mosher's employment with the Highway Department was terminated late last year amid allegations of misconduct. Earlier this month, a series of posters critical of Hitchcock and the majority of the Town Board have been posted in the community.
Hitchcock has stated his belief that despite what occurred (with Mosher) before he took office in November, that his choice for the position represents the highest qualified candidate. He also maintains that Mosher is deserving of a "second chance" similar to one extended to another town employee.
Following Hitchcock's formal announcement at the meeting of his desire to hire Mosher, the board initiated an ethics review discussion.
Supporters of the appointment sought to define the issue strictly within the framework of the ethics review process. Councilmen Stevens and Arsenault criticized Supervisor Goodspeed for taking a broad approach to the issue by revisiting the Board decision in favor of Mosher's termination in 2008.
Goodspeed reiterated his belief that a vote of support could place the town in legal jeopardy in the event another act of misconduct occurred.
The sometimes heated debate also involved the audience as both sides argued their points.
Hitchcock supporters expressed their concern that the Board was essentially blocking him from carrying out the duties for which he was elected. Others noted that the ultimate responsibility for the appointment rest with Hitchcock and his ability to run the Highway Department effectively.
Opponents of the appointment countered with accusations of "rubber stamping" Hitchcock's decision and expressed frustration regarding the Town's legal liability and potential taxpayer burden should a lawsuit ensue.
During the debate, Hitchcock drew fire from Supervisor Goodspeed for publicly divulging information previously discussed during the Board's "executive session" meetings.
Goodspeed was in turn rebuked by Councilman Arsenault for clarifying Hitchcock's statements and reacting to the public release of sensitive information.
In a subsequent written statement to the News Enterprise, Councilman Vanselow elaborated on his dissatisfaction with the Board's ethics vote.
"As far as I'm concerned, the whole reason for the provision in the town's ethics code that requires town board approval in nepotism hiring situations, is to ensure that the hiring process is absolutely fair, that all applicants have an equal chance at securing the position, and that the person being hired is the absolute best choice, based on the process," Vanselow said.
"In this case, there's not even a semblance of fairness. In fact, there was not even a process. Not a single (other) applicant was interviewed. Not a single phone call was made. Not a single reference was checked. Instead, a choice was made to disregard all of the other applicants in favor of the Highway Superintendent's brother-in-law.
"All of us who enter into public service have an obligation to ensure that every official decision we make is ethically based. In voting to confirm this choice in the face of a glaring lack of a fair process, the Johnsburg Town Board has failed to fulfill that obligation."
The Board resolution to allow the appointment was forwarded by Councilman Stevens, seconded by Councilman Arsenault, and supported by Councilman Morehouse.
Councilman Vanselow and Supervisor Goodspeed represented the two dissenting votes.
But a quiet resolution to the issue would appear to be elusive as several new posters were observed in the community late this week. They charge Hitchcock with "nepotism" and severely criticize his decision to move forward with the appointment.
An anonymous source close to the issue also informed the News Enterprise that a grass-roots campaign against the appointment will soon be online with a website and "Johnsburg Board Watch" blog.